NATURE IS BIG ON THE CENTRAL OREGON COAST. From the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North Americato the biggest sea cave in the country, the Lane County coastline boasts awe-inspiring sights millions of years in the making,as well as thoroughly modern ways to enjoy them. Event and conference planners looking for a location that offers somethingfor the most sedate to the most outrageously adventurous guests will find everything they need right here.
When it’s time to get down to business, the central Oregon coast offers a variety of venues. In its 455-seat professional theater, the Florence Events Center hosts regular concerts by the Eugene Symphony and Eugene Ballet Company, as well as world-touring artists. It also features an additional 8,000 square feet of flat-floor meeting space that can be divided into as many as five separate rooms with a joint lobby. The center can comfortably accommodate up to 300 guests, and on-site catering can provide anything from concessions to full-service prime rib dinners.
With just three full-time employees, the events center relies on a cadre of more than 50 dedicated volunteers, which "makes it very affordable," says Kevin Rhodes, the center’s director. "The prices are very reasonable and we offer excellent service."
If you’re looking for a venue with on-site lodging and entertainment, check out Three Rivers Casino & Hotel. You’ll find 93 hotel rooms (including six suites), four restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, top music and comedy acts, plus more than 700 slot machines and a full range of table games.
Three Rivers has 8,000 square feet of meeting space in its events center, as well as a 1,200-square-foot banquet room at the golf course’s clubhouse. Three Rivers’ event center is "a very versatile space," says Jennifer Jones, group sales coordinator for the casino. It breaks down into five rooms and can seat 300 for a banquet and about 700 people for a concert.
Dining options include Aces Sports Bar, the World Market Buffet, Trios (an American-style restaurant) and the Prime Rib and Steakhouse, which was named Best Steakhouse on the Oregon Coast by local newspaper Siuslaw News, and earned an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator for 2012 and 2013.
The resort also offers free shuttle service to area attractions like Old Town Florence and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. "We have just about anything guests might want to do," says Jones. "And if it’s not on-property, we’re happy to drive guests where they want to go."
If you want to have your conference on the central Oregon coast with a view, there’s only one option: Driftwood Shores Resort and Conference Center, the area’s only oceanfront hotel. All 126 hotel rooms and meeting spaces feature full ocean views.
The main banquet room can be split into three rooms and offers full-service meals and stunning outlooks for up to 120 people. For smaller groups, Driftwood Shores offers an Executive Board Room for up to 30 attendees. On-site catering is available, and guests can enjoy a well-rounded Pacific Northwest menu at the Surfside Restaurant or grab a drink at the Classic Cocktail Lounge. There’s also a large, indoor heated pool and Jacuzzi, along with a children’s aquatic area.
Besides beachcombing and tidepooling, this stretch of coast offers post-meeting recreation you won’t find on a typical beach. The town of Florence boasts the world’s first sandboard park, Sand Master Park. Think of it as snowboarding, except instead of a mountainside, you’ll be blasting down enormous dunes. The 40-acre private park also hosts sand-sculpting clinics in the summer and is available for private party rental.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is a 40-mile-long publicly owned area that features massive, beautiful dunes that seem to go on forever. Created by millions of years of wind and rain erosion, the dunes reach heights of up to 500 feet. Check out one of the licensed dune buggy and sandrail operators: Sandland Adventures or Sand Dunes Frontier. "The sandrails go up to 60 miles an hour and are thrilling," promises Jessica Chestnut, social media and public relations manager with Travel Lane County. "It’s very, very exhilarating."
Sandland Adventures can accommodate 54 riders at a time in its dune buggies and 28 at a time on its sandrails. "Sometimes we get groups where some will want to go fast and some will go slower," says Sandland’s Darla Hague. "We get a lot of businesses coming down for team-building."
Sand Dunes Frontier offers similar capacity. When the adventure parks close in January and February, winter storm-watching provides dramatic entertainment along the coast.
For year-round enjoyment, head to the Sea Lion Caves, the largest sea cave in America, according to Guinness World Records. The cave is a haven for Steller sea lions and a breeding ground in the spring. But it’s not a zoo. "They’re wild animals," manager Jim McMillan says. "We don’t feed them; we don’t keep them."
Should you happen upon that rare occasion when the sea lions aren’t plentiful, the cave itself and other wildlife make the elevator ride to the viewing area worthwhile. Indeed, some 25 million years in the making, the cavern today is as tall as a 12-story building and the length of a football field, and is widely regarded as one of the most magnificent in the world, rivaling the famous Blue Grotto on the Italian island of Capri. The 23-passenger elevator descends 208 feet and can accommodate up to 400 visitors per hour.
If shopping is on your guests’ agendas, Old Town Florence offers an eclectic collection of boutiques and art galleries. Grab a bite and enjoy the boardwalk overlooking the fishing docks. "Historic Old Town Florence is one of the most charming little places you can imagine. … The boardwalk is a great place to watch boats or purchase fresh fish and delicious Dungeness crab," says Chestnut.
"Oregon is known for its fishing and crabbing, and our restaurants are top-notch," she adds. "Mo’s Restaurant has a few Oregon Coast locations and is the place for world-famous clam chowder. … The Siuslaw Pioneer Museum is also in Old Town and houses historical displays, pictures and other info on the Siuslaw River area."
Whether you want to shop, see a show, check out wildlife or take a wild ride on the sand, the central Oregon coast can please even the most diverse groups.